Optometry & Vision Science - Research

Ulster University - Coleraine

Optometry & Vision Science - Research

The Optometry and Vision Science research group brings together a diverse range of researchers, but all with a focus on clinically relevant vision research employing the best techniques to optimise measurement of visual function and its underpinning structure. Its areas of research include:

Refractive error: Refractive error results when the eye grows abnormally so that light does not focus accurately on the retina. One increasingly common error of focus, myopia (short-sightedness), tends to increase during school years as the eye continues to grow and can affect a child's self-image and may impact his/her ability to participate in sports. The Northern Ireland Childhood Errors of Refraction (NICER) study is the largest study in the UK and Ireland to examine how children's vision, in particular their refractive error, changes through childhood and adolescence. The study began in 2006 when over a thousand 6-7 and 12-13 year-old school children were recruited for their first vision assessment. The study is now in its fourth stage of follow up and is looking at the influence of how much time children spend studying, playing outside and using smart phones and tablets. Other studies in this area are looking at the role of medicinal products in controlling myopia.

Researchers: Prof. K Saunders, Dr JA Little, Dr J McClelland, Dr S McCullough, Dr K Breslin, Dr L Doyle, Dr E McConnell

Novel ophthalmic imaging
Our group is currently involved in research to develop novel in-vivo ophthalmic imaging including Binocular Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) development in collaboration with Moorfields Eye Hospital in London. This technique uses swept source OCT to generate high resolution whole-eye scans of both eyes simultaneously. Its binocular design also enables clinicians to perform objective binocular functional testing including pupillometry and strabismus assessment.

The group also uses both retinal and anterior segment OCT imaging to investigate retina in Autism Spectrum Disorder, and to investigate the utility of OCT for biometric analysis and quantifying of cataract magnitude. We are also investigating retinal cone imaging using a narrow angle Heidelberg Retinal Angiograph (HRA) in the ageing eye and in ocular diseases such as glaucoma and diabetes.

Researchers: Prof. R. Anderson, Dr P. Mulholland, Dr JA Little

Visual disorders in Special needs
Our group has a strong international reputation for investigating visual processing and optical performance of children with developmental disabilities, including Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Techniques such as objective photorefraction, higher order aberrations, advanced imaging, electrodiagnostic and clinical techniques have furthered our knowledge and help influence the diagnosis and clinical management of visual disorders in these groups.

The Special Education Eyecare (SEE) Project seeks to improve access to eyecare for children with developmental disability, providing more accessible, extended modes of provision for these vulnerable children in order to make a real difference to their educational development and quality of life.

Researchers: Prof. K Saunders, Dr JA Little, Dr J McClelland, Dr S McCullough, Dr L Doyle, Dr E McConnell

Psychophysical investigation of visual function.
The group is involved with a number of studies using psychophysical methods to investigation visual function including:

Basic psychophysics investigating spatio-temporal interactions across the field of vision and spatial properties of different parallel visual pathways.

Development of novel perimetric methods in glaucoma using perimetric stimuli that scale in 3D.

The investigation of the role of the macular pigment in human visual performance in the normal eye and diseased eye.

Visual acuity chart design using high-pass filtered letters which has led to the development of the Moorfields Acuity Chart (MAC) in collaboration with Moorfields Eye Hospital in London.

Researchers: Prof. R. Anderson, Dr P. Mulholland, Dr R Beirne

Vision and Driving
The group is developing an increasing interest in how visual deficits (acuity, visual field damage, intraocular straylight, low-light sensitivity loss) affects the ability to drive safely.

Researchers: Dr J. Little, Prof. R. Anderson, Dr P. Mulholland.

Biomedical Science at Ulster University has an outstanding record of success in research, having been awarded the highest possible rating in RAE1996 and 2001, and ranked first place in terms of research power in RAE2008. In REF2014, we were judged to be among the top five universities in terms of research power (out of 92 UK submissions) with 100% four star rating for our research environment.

Biomedical Sciences research activities are currently organized within distinct Research Groups: Diabetes, Food & Health (through Nutrition Innovation Centre for Food and Health (NICHE)), Genomic Medicine, Pharmaceutical Sciences & Practice, Stratified Medicine and Vision Science.

Multi-disciplinary collaboration between the research groups is strongly encouraged and is widespread with research into, for instance, anti-diabetic and antioncogenic aspects of nutrition, the genomics of vitamin receptors, visual deterioration or cancer, imaging of neovascularisation. Our research investigates the interaction between cardiovascular disease and vision and the impact of health and disease, diet, diabetes on dementia, hypertension, vascular and inflammatory disease, to name a few.

In practice, the research groups collaborate both internally and internationally on a range of prioritized multi-disciplinary themes in: ageing, drug discovery and delivery, personalized medicine and genomic medicine. There is also opportunity to undertake research in a number of multi-disciplinary research areas, which combine cutting edge Biomedical Sciences research with psychology, computing and engineering and computational biology. The BMSRI has strong collaborations with regional and global pharmaceutical and diagnostics companies and many of our graduates and postgraduates gain employment in the pharma, diagnostics and health care sectors as well as academia.

The BMSRI offers a "state-of-the-art" research environment for high profile researchers to undertake internationally agenda setting research in strategically prioritized areas of biomedicine. This research environment earned Biomedical Sciences at Ulster a No. 1 ranking in RAE2008, and was again rated as 100% "world-leading" in REF2014. Our research is carried out in well-equipped laboratories allowing the latest methods to be applied to individual projects. Our entire infrastructure is managed as Core Facility Units (CFUs) with equipment and laboratories dedicated to: advanced molecular bioimaging/microscopy, bioinformatics, cell biology, chemical analysis, genomics, proteomics/metabolomics (include Mass Spectrometry & NMR analysis), transgenics, physiology and pharmacology.

The BMSRI research infrastructure also includes centralized resources for: high throughput drug screening in vitro assays, clinical research & human intervention studies/ trials; the use and storage of mammalian cells and tissues; and in vivo studies in Animal reporter gene models and animal models that replicate human disease. The BMSRI uses its estate of equipment, specialist laboratories, infrastructure and internationally recognized biomedical expertise to offer clinical & translational services to Academic Researchers and Industrial Business partners. The BMSRI routinely engages in collaborative research with some of the world's leading pharmaceutical and biomedical companies and through the support of Ulster's Office of Innovation, the University has established a track record of success in the commercialization of its research outcomes.

Entry requirements

Applicants should hold, or expect to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class Honours Degree in a subject relevant to the proposed area of study. We may also consider applications from those who hold equivalent qualifications, for example, a Lower Second Class Honours Degree plus a Master's Degree with Distinction.

In exceptional circumstances, the University may consider a portfolio of evidence from applicants who have appropriate professional experience which is equivalent to the learning outcomes of an Honours degree in lieu of academic qualifications.

Additional information for International applicants may be found

English language requirements
In order to be admitted to research study at Ulster, you will need to provide evidence of your English language proficiency as part of your application.

Full details on the requirements for both home and overseas applicants can be found at https://www.ulster.ac.uk/doctoralcollege/postgraduate-research/apply/english-language-requirements

Application dates

We are delighted that you are considering Ulster University for your research studies.

Get full details on the application process and further guidance on how to apply, and what you will need to upload as part of your application (see "Application Weblink" below.

Once you have identified supervisors, discussed a research proposal and are ready to make an application, please apply using the online application system (see "Application Weblink" below.

Ulster University welcomes applications from all sections of the community and from persons with disabilities. It is University policy to assess all applications using academic criteria and on the basis of equality of opportunity and you should be assured that reasonable adjustments will be made should you require them.


Structured PhD (full-time, four years)
Structured PhD (part-time, six years)

Post Course Info

Careers and opportunities
PhD graduates are recognised by employers to hold valuable transferrable skills, as the nature of the degree trains candidates in creativity, critical inquiry, problem solving, negotiation skills, professionalism and confidence.

The most recent Ulster survey of PhD graduates found that 92% had secured employment within the first year since graduation (HESA Destination of Leavers Survey 2015), and while two thirds end up in the Higher Education or Research sectors, the range of skills acquired equips the remainder for employment in a wide range of contexts.


Research Areas

Broad areas of Research interest: www.nuigalway.ie/business-public-policy-law/cairnes/research/researchcentres/

School of Business:
Accounting and Finance
Management Information Systems

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  • Qualifications

    Degree - Doctoral at UK Level 8

  • Attendance type

    Full time,Daytime

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